Why did I quit my job?
December 5, 2006 10:05 PM   Subscribe

I walked out on my job, what do I tell future employers?

My job sucked. So two weeks ago, amidst some political bullshit, I walked out. Not the wisest move considering I'm no where near financially stable, but it was the best thing I could do for my soul. Yeah, I know it sound cheesy, but the job was utterly demoralizing. A friend very astutely observed it was a "toxic situation".

So what do I tell future employers? Having done job interviews, I know how horrible it sounds when the interviewee says something bad about the former company. It doesn't matter if they're justified, no one wants to see a bitter candidate. But what if they call my previous employer? The asked me to sign termination papers afterwards, so I was blunt and asked them what they'd say - just the employment dates and if asked they'd say, no, they wouldn't hire me again but they wouldn't disclose why.

Now, the upside, my direct boss and I go way back, and he was surprised at the timing, but he also was surprised I stayed as long as I did. He's agreed to give me a good reference "off the record" since he can't really do it in an official capacity.

So how do I approach this? Do I just not say anything unless asked? I read some other job threads here and they suggested talking about not fitting into the corporate culture, or taking time to be with family, or what have you. But they were smart enough to give notice at least.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
This might be when it's good to have home business, consulting, or whatever work on the sidelines that you've done on your own time and work it up into something presentable in lieu of the time at that company. If your own private work is too minimal, and the time at the company is long or important experiencewise, or if your new company regularly crosses paths with the old company, then that approach might not work.

Then again I haven't done hiring or HR so I might be talking out of my ass.
posted by calhound at 10:21 PM on December 5, 2006

Best answer: First, don't worry. I'm a recruiter and your situation is not at all uncommon. However, the next job you get you need to keep for at least 2 years. In the interview, the recruiter will ask something along the lines of "and why did you leave your last employer?" and your response should not be ill towards that employer, but instead focus on you making a decision. Employers like people who are able to do what is right, and this is a great example. Again, do not bad-mouth your old employer -- it is unprofessional. Don't worry about not giving notice, you're not required to. Assuming you're in the US and not in a union shop, you were "at will" and could leave whenever you wanted. It is not a problem at all, and giving notice would have changed nothing.

Oh, as for your upside, make sure you stay in contact with that direct boss. When you find a job and put him down as a reference, contact him and explain the position and why it's a good fit. This way, when he receives that call, he can say "off the record, I think insert is a great employee and would do marvelous in that job."

After this next job, you're completely fine.
posted by lpret at 10:29 PM on December 5, 2006

A couple questions - how long where you there? If short enough, perhaps you can cover it up by omission. This assumes, of course, that you're not working in banking or some other field where a new employer will actively investigate your background.

Also - was this a typo - "The asked me to sign termination papers afterwards" - termination or resignation?

Did you sign papers resigning your position, or ones that agreed you were terminated? Big difference. If the latter you might not want to even mention this position.
posted by Mutant at 11:22 PM on December 5, 2006

Best answer: It's not really that difficult. List your old boss as a reference, giving his cell phone number as the contact info. Then when people ask you why you left your previous position, say something like "It just wasn't the right position for me. I'm looking for a position that can better utilize my skills." You don't have to badmouth the company, you don't have to say ANYTHING about the company. Just say that you weren't a good fit for the job (if you were there for a long time, say that the responsibilities changed or something like that... employers generally don't want somebody that will sit and stew miserably for years either).
posted by antifuse at 1:32 AM on December 6, 2006

Be honest. Don't go on a 30 minute diatribe about what a terrible company they were and list all of their shortcomings (real or perceived) but let your future employer know that you were extremely unhappy there and had to get out as soon as you could. If they ask for more then give it. I was in a similar situation where I walked out of a job in the middle of my shift. I've had 3 jobs since then and none of them cared about it, they all understood completely.
posted by ChazB at 2:05 AM on December 6, 2006

It's not as dire as you think, clever. As the responses here indicate, sooooo many people have been through this already. (Including yours truly, who once left a bad job after three weeks, with no notice.) A simple "It just wasn't a good fit" should suffice for most prospective employers. Emphasize the positive reasons for leaving, not the negative ones -- that is, not "It sucked and I had to get out of there before my soul imploded," but instead something more like what antifuse suggests. Very few will look askance at someone who's seeking happiness -- but sour grapes aren't what any recruiter wants to hear. Good luck!
posted by shallowcenter at 3:26 AM on December 6, 2006

It might help focus the replies if you told us where you are, and what work you do. Hiring practices vary from one market to another.

I'm also brought up short by the "termination papers afterwards" bit. I assume you mean that you did get to read those papers, and it was the information they'd give to a reference-seeker that they would not reveal. If you have someone call (or better yet, write) them posing as a potential employer asking about you, you can find out what they say. If it's very negative, you may have legal recourse.

As to your approach when dealing with interviews, the advice in the thread is good.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:56 AM on December 6, 2006

If I were interviewing you, my first and most pressing question would be why you walked out. In other words, was it because you were in a situation for which there was no other recourse, or was it because you can't handle criticism? The two are very different.

This is where honesty will make a big difference: as your potential employer, I basically want to know that you aren't going to walk out on me the first time things don't go your way. If you can reassure me about that, we can move on to other things. If, on the other hand, you come off as a whiny prima donna who can't handle themselves appropriately when they're under pressure, say goodbye.
posted by scrump at 6:03 AM on December 6, 2006

I would hope that "things not going his way" would not even surface in an interview. "Left to pursue other paths to advancement." "Left for greater challenges." Even "time to move on." There's no need to get into negatives or specifics. If an interviewer is pressing for juicy details, then the applicant has already said too much, and should clam up.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:48 AM on December 6, 2006

Did you sign papers resigning your position,
oops, resignation. Sorry.

As for explaining why I quit, I don't want to. Its not that I didn't have valid reasons, its that I'm afraid it will be taken the wrong way. It involved gender discrimination, harassment (not sexual, just being an asshole) from the owner's son, being threatened to be fired if I didn't infringe on other people's copyright, being accused of not finishing projects when the accuser didn't actually CHECK to see if the work was done first (this happened A LOT despite finishing all my projects on time.), being forced to work in another job position for three months because they didn't have enough help in that area even though it wasn't even related to what they hired me for. And the list goes on and on.

I stayed there just over a year because I hoped it would get better. In part, my direct boss was responsible for giving me hope it would get better because he really supported me and did his best to shield me from this crap, but there is only so much he could do when it was people able him. My immediate coworkers were awesome. I loved what I did work wise and was proud of the positive influence I had on the company image. So I toughed a lot of it out. If I could be completely honest with the next job I would say "I loved my job, but a small handful of people made being there unbearable" but I don't want to, as was said, be seen as a whiny prima donna.

If it helps, I'm a web/graphic designer. I do a lot with the web and as of this job had started to do a lot with print as well.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 8:31 AM on December 6, 2006

About two years ago, I walked out of a job much as you did. I had worked there for just over five years and left in the middle of the day.

Since quitting, I have never been in an interview where I have had to tell anyone that I left without notice. Get lateral references or references from former supervisors or managers, if you can. I have two excellent references from that job and prospective employers never have to be in contact with the people I reported to when I quit.

When the subject of why I left comes up, I just tell the interviewer that my opportunities for growth were limited and figured that it was time to move to a new city and try my luck there.
posted by solid-one-love at 8:35 AM on December 6, 2006

After about 20 years in the workforce I can say that nobody has ever asked me about the circumstances surrounding my departure from my old jobs. They've asked when I worked there, what I did, what projects I worked on, how many people I supervised, what I felt my accomplishments were, what I liked about it, what I didn't like about it, and why I left.

Not one "how much notice did you give" kind of thing. Ever.

You had a job for what sounds like a reasonable tenure and you left it. If you're asked why you left you say something about how it was no longer a good fit or you wanted to grow in XYZ ways and it wasn't possible given their market space or whatever.

Whether or not your former employer will tell people that you walked out it hard to know. You can try to suss it out by calling and pretending to be someone checking your references, or have a friend do it, but in the end it was what it was. If you get confronted with it just (a) say that the situation was such that you and your immediate supervisor decided together that there was no point in your continuing on there for two weeks and you severed your employment immediately and (2) if they're bothering to talk with you about it it means they want to hire you and are looking for assurances. Provide them by being gracious and matter-of-fact.
posted by phearlez at 9:37 AM on December 6, 2006

I love it when people just give me the straight dope. seriously, that stands out. it was time to move on, so I did. make it about yourself. you wanted more, you felt you needed to get up, you are a do-er. positive, active.

agreed on badmouthing your previous company. that would make me wonder how you would talk about me later on.
posted by krautland at 9:47 AM on December 6, 2006

"It wasn't a good fit, and rather than staying on in a position that wasn't right, I decided to seek employment elsewhere."
posted by suchatreat at 11:49 AM on December 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

That was AWESOME! I just had a phone interview and when asked all I said was I left because it wasn't a good fit, and I left on good terms and he could speak to my former boss if he'd like.

Thanks everyone for the advice. I only marked a couple best answers but you all were extremely helpful.

If I can sneak in another question, I have another potential employer on the line pressing me for my salary history. I gave them my salary requirements instead, and they responded "thanks, but we need your salary history." I feel really at a disadvantage giving that information before I even interview.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 12:35 PM on December 6, 2006

I would never provide salary history to a prospective employer. It's none of their goddamned business. They can pay me what I think I'm worth, or I will keep looking.
posted by solid-one-love at 1:39 PM on December 6, 2006

Solid-one-love, that's pretty much what I wrote back to the person asking, but more tactfully put. I'm guessing I can write that job off, but it occurred to me that I wouldn't want to work their anyway if that would eliminate me from the running, and not the quality of my work After all, I have extensive experience and a portfolio with my work. If that isn't the types of things they look for in an employee, then I don't know that I'd fit in there.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 4:09 PM on December 6, 2006

but more tactfully put.

I should hope so. ;-)
posted by solid-one-love at 5:46 PM on December 6, 2006

I similarly never give salary history. Aside from the fact that it's intrusive and overly personal, it always stuck me as sleazy.

If you are worried that I will not accept an offer from you because I am making way more than you're willing to pay, you should bring up a salary range for the position. Or you could just make me an offer and take your chances - you are not such a unique snowflake that you're above rejection once in a while.

If you are worried that you'll offer to pay me way more than I'm already making... why? Aren't you committed to paying an salary that's appropriate to the job and the local market? If the job it worth the salary the job is worth the salary. Trying to lowball me is cruddy and not a smart employee-employer relationship move anyway - if someone doesn't know what they should be making on day one you can be sure they will by day 180.

Salary history requirements are almost always indefensible, in my not so humble opinion. I can afford to be snippy about it, though, since I've never had one demanded from me by somewhere I really wanted to be or when I really needed the job. Personally I doubt anywhere I'd want to be would be adamant about it and I hope I never again need a job so bad I'd violate a personal belief like that.
posted by phearlez at 9:38 PM on December 6, 2006

I once went on an interview, which went well. At the end, she asked what salary I wanted. I said, "Well, right now, I'm making [X]. She nearly fell off her chair, and said something like, "That's way outside the pay range for the job." I had taken a vacation day to go to this interview, and was annoyed.

Since then, I always try to get some kind of salary range at the initial contact. It saves everyone from wasting their time, if expectations are too different. Some employers don't want to reveal what they are willing to pay; I figure them for cheapskates. The times where someone I know took one of those jobs, it turned out I was right.

The interview process is not a one-sided, buyers'-market phenomenon, unless you're only marginally employable. If you have decent skills, use the process to get the best job you can, at the most favorable terms. They aren't doing you a favor - it's a transaction.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:35 AM on December 7, 2006

>Salary History

No way - that is none of their business. If you were a consultant with an hourly rate, would they expect you to divulge historically how you arrived at that?

Now - I normally don't ask for the range upfront (if it is not already posted), because I never consider interviewing a waste of time.

Interviewing is a skill like anything else, and even if there is not a 'fit' (financially or otherwise) - you have still gained something by it. I have been in the same situation as Kirth - and my gain was that I simply 'wrote-off' that company for future discussions.
posted by jkaczor at 10:34 AM on December 7, 2006

« Older Who are the Liberty Five?   |   How to manually add files to an iTunes podcast... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.